The Russian River Valley offers a wide variety of hiking trails suited to everyone from sedate walkers to brawny backpackers. Many of these lie away from central Wine Country, out in the mountains near the river itself and Guerneville.
One of the best of these spots is undoubtedly Armstrong Redwoods (17000 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville, 707/869-2015, ww.parks.ca.gov, daily 8 a.m.–sunset, $6). It’s an easy, five-minute drive from Guerneville on one mostly straight road. This little redwoods park often gets overlooked, which makes it a little bit less crowded than some of the most popular North Coast and Sierra redwood forests. But you can still get a fabulous hike in here—either a short stroll in the shade of the trees or a multi-day backcountry adventure.
The easiest walk ever to a big tree is the 0.1-mile stagger from the visitors center to the tallest tree in the park, named the Parson Jones Tree. If you saunter another half-mile, you’ll reach the Armstrong Tree, which grows next to the Armstrong Pack Station—your first stop if you’re doing the heavy-duty hiking thing.
From the Pack Station, another quarter-mile of moderate hiking gets you to the Icicle Tree. If you want more advice on the trails here, stop in and talk to the rangers at the visitors center; they’re both knowledgeable and helpful, and love to share information about their park.
Bored with redwoods and yearning for a different landscape? Right next to Armstrong sits the Austin Creek State Recreation Area (17000 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville, 707/869-2015, www.parks.ca.gov. 8 a.m.– sunset, $6 per vehicle) It’s rough going (2.5 miles of steep, narrow, treacherous dirt road) to get to the main entrance and parking area. No vehicles over 20 feet long and no trailers of any kind are permitted. But once you’re in, some great—and very difficult—hiking awaits you.
The eponymous Austin Creek Trail (4.7 miles one-way) takes you down from the hot meadows into the cool forest fed by Austin Creek. To avoid monotony on this challenging route, create a loop by taking the turn onto the Gilliam Creek Trail (4 miles one-way). This way you get to see another of the park’s cute little creeks as you walk back to your starting point.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition